The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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May 8, 2014

Mayor rebuts claim night cams left out of $200G package

SUNBURY — A Muncy resident is continuing to question city authorities about controversies surrounding a public surveillance camera project that have been lingering for nearly three years.

After getting what he believes to be a runaround from city officials about the camera project in Sunbury, Drake Saxton, a former city resident, has fired his file off to the U.S. Department of Justice, inviting federal inspectors to see how its money was handled.

Saxton said he still isn’t getting the proper answers, leading him to harbor beliefs that the money was mishandled.

One of his questions is about the city’s camera installer and main contractor, Aaron Nigro, of Global Security Tactics, who became embroiled in controversy when he was arrested in the Pittsburgh area on a felony theft charge in 2013. Nigro has denied the charges and is awaiting trial.

Nigro’s trial on Monday was continued by a Westmoreland County judge until July 7.

Saxton questions why Nigro won the bid in the first place when a separate company was a lower bidder.

Saxton provided documents showing the original Nigro bid and the price of the purchased cameras differ.

Saxton regularly attends city council meetings, has questioned council members on several occasions and said he isn’t getting clear answers.

“I sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting an investigation into the camera project,” Saxton said.

“I have all my documentation and I have all the city’s responses. We will see what an investigation DOJ can determine.”

The camera project began after former U.S. Rep. Chris Carney obtained a $200,000 COPS grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for the city to purchase and install security cameras.

The camera project has been under scrutiny from the moment the city received the check from Carney more than two years ago. The project still hasn’t been completed.

Saxton and his supporters met with Carney and showed the former congressman the documents.

Carney reviewed the papers and said that although he questions why the city took so long to use the money, because he is no longer in office, there is little he can do.

“I would ask whomever purchased the cameras how many bids they sought and why they decided on the cameras they chose,” Carney suggested. “I assume the requestors would be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. At least I hope they were.”

Saxton has called state police, the district attorney’s office and the mayor to discuss the project, but said his concerns keep falling on deaf ears.

Saxton said he is making an issue of the cameras because he wants Sunbury to be able to continue to receive federal grants.

“Let’s just get it cleared up,” Saxton said. “We don’t want to risk the taxpayers of the city because something may have been done wrong here.”

The cameras are made by Mobotix, of Germany, and were to have night vision, in the original bid.

In October 2012, Global Surveillance Systems of Chantilly, Va., was the winning bidder for the project, which was to include about 50 Mobotix cameras.

The following month, former Councilman Todd Snyder announced that Global Surveillance Systems and the second-low bidder withdrew their bid because they didn’t want to compete with companies with which they did business.

The contract then went to Global Security Tactics, of Greensburg.

Saxton questioned whether the original bid and the actual purchase of the cameras were the same.

The price of the cameras had gone up and the city did not receive any night vision cameras, Saxton said.

Sunbury Mayor David Persing insists Saxton has no idea what he is talking about.

“The cameras do have night vision,” Persing previously said. “They all take pictures at night.”

In fact, he said, “Those pictures can be accessed when needed.”

There is no central systems headquarters, Persing said.

“From the very beginning, there was to be no one place where a person could monitor all the cameras 24/7,” he said. “They are strategically located throughout the city and different computers at different locations can monitor specific cameras. We could not afford to have police officers ’round the clock sitting by a bank of monitors watching every second of the day. Do I personally monitor the computers every day? No, I do not. But, as I said, when needed, we can.”

Persing insisted the city is in control of the street cameras. The images are accessible.

He also said the cameras and pictures have been used for investigative purposes.

“As a matter of fact,” Persing said, “right now we are using our cameras in an ongoing investigation.” He declined to specify the nature of the investigation.

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